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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I don’t know David Golumbia, but I suspect I agree with him on many matters, actually. In particular, the centrality of an understanding of labour within a digital environment (that can too often mask its presence) has formed a core part of the 100+ keynotes that I have given on the topic of open access in the past two years (which is why OLH runs a model that requires universities to pay: we aren’t relying on volunteerism etc. we are remunerating labour).

On my way home from work today, I looked at Golumbia’s latest article: Golumbia, David, ‘Marxism and Open Access in the Humanities: Turning Academic Labor against Itself’, Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor (2016) http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/workplace/article/view/186213 [accessed 3 October 2016]. (I like it that I am called “comparatively cautious” in the parts of the article that write about me, but I sense a certain sting/hostility anyway.)

I want to return to the article again more closely. For one, my experience of working in the UK alongside others who have been mandated to deposit has not been the negative side that Golumbia attributes to “coercion”. Several of my colleagues have reported delight that their work can be read for free, despite only first depositing because the mandate “made them”. But a few things stood out for me in the article that I wanted to note for my own interest:

Golumbia writes that “One searches OA literature in vain for discussions of the labor issues”. Although it is true that much of the discussion proceeds without such a debate, this strikes me as untrue. For instance, just listing the ones I can think of off the top of my head that Golumbia doesn’t cite, see:

  • Boshears, Paul F., ‘Open Access Publishing as a Para-Academic Proposition: OA as Labour Relation’, tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, 11 (2013), 614–19. Includes the line: "Open Access publishing isn't a disruptive technology, it is a labour relation."
  • Drabinski, Emily and Korey Jackson, "Session: Open Access, Labor, and Knowledge Production" (March 25, 2015). Critlib. Unconference. Paper 11. <http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/critlib/2015/Conference/11>. Demonstrates librarian efforts at pedagogy around labour and scholarly production.
  • Eve, Martin Paul, Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) <http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316161012>, pp. 62-67. Includes line: "there is a potentially dangerous political risk that the monetarily free nature of open access might hide this economic presence and thereby sustain the illusion that research work is a liberated, esoteric activity."
  • Eve, Martin Paul, ‘An Old Tradition and a New Technology: Notes on Why Open Access Remains Hard’, Martin Paul Eve, 2016 <https://www.martineve.com/2016/02/09/an-old-tradition-and-a-new-technology-notes-on-why-open-access-remains-hard/> [accessed 3 October 2016]. Includes the line: "That the labour in producing digital artefacts inheres in the cost to produce the first copy. This is true. But because this cost is often buried by the low dissemination cost, as per point 1, it is sometimes ignored or denied."
  • Eve, Martin Paul, ‘All That Glisters: Investigating Collective Funding Mechanisms for Gold Open Access in Humanities Disciplines’, Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 2 (2014) <https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1131>. Includes many discussions of how technology is actually labour.
  • Kelty, Christopher, ‘Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can Tell Us about Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University Today’, Cultural Anthropology, 29 (2014), 203–15 <https://doi.org/10.14506/ca29.2.02>. Includes many discussions of labor precarity in relation to open access.

This list literally took me 10 minutes to write up. So it strikes me as a bit weird that Golumbia can just make the claim in a peer-reviewed article that there is no OA literature that discusses the “labor issues”. He may not agree with them and that’s fine. But surely they should be cited because, when one can provide multiple counter-examples within 10 minutes, this makes it so easy to demolish the argument that “one searches OA literature in vain for discussions of the labor issues”. Golumbia is also happy to cite other forms of grey literature and does so a-plenty in his bibliography, so the fact that these are not all traditional publications doesn’t seem to excuse the non-citation. It is possible that some of these appeared too late to be cited in the piece, of course, given how long it can take for work to come out.

The other thing that was a little odd is that Golumbia takes Peter Suber apart for advocating too strongly on the taxpayer line. (For the record: I really dislike the taxpayer arguments for OA. They stem from cultures that I have not in general found to be amenable to the continued existence of the academic humanities.) But the problem is that Suber is himself acutely aware of this dilemma and wrote about it in 2003: Suber, Peter, ‘The Taxpayer Argument for Open Access’, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, 2003 http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/4725013 [accessed 1 May 2014]. Again, one might not agree with all that Suber writes, but this would have been a much more rigorous document to critique from the cyber-libertarian standpoint (about which I remain unsure).

The final thing that stood out for me in a first reading was these lines:

Secondly, OA advocates too frequently lump every discipline and every kind of creative output into one basket. Humanities scholars are perhaps in a particularly unusual position regarding OA (see Allington 2013, Brienza 2012, and Golumbia 2013c for critical discussions of the impact of OA on the humanities, concerns which are not adequately addressed in the pro-OA Eve 2014), due to the facts that 1) their publications are in general much less expensive than are those in the sciences, often by a factor of tens or hundreds (see, among many other sources, Abelson, Diamond, Grosso, and Pfeiffer 2013; Brienza 2012; Larivière, Haustein, and Mongeon 2015); 2) the public need for speedy access outside of institutional protocols to humanities research is much less clear than in, for example, medicine; 3) humanists frequently (much more frequently than many commentators appear to realize) earn a substantial portion of their income from the intellectual property interests they have in their research

First, I’m not sure that I did “not adequately address[…]” these matters. In fact, I spent a long time asking why humanities research was different or similar to other forms of academic practice, concluding that there might be more similarities than differences (pp. 22-30). This doesn’t mean I didn’t adequately address these matters, I just came to a conclusion with which the author disagrees.

Just a few points to address here, though. On point 1: books that cost £60 ($100) are not uncommon in the humanities. Even if this is cheaper than scientific textbooks or journals, it’s hardly accessible to most people who might want to buy it. On point 2: “the public need” for education in the humanities in general could be argued to be negligible (and many people do argue that). Since when did we want to predicate access to humanities education on the public need for it? If someone is interested and wants to read the work, could that not be a pressing-enough need in itself from cultures of academia that try to resist such instrumentalization? On point 3. Fair enough. Except I give all my royalties to charity and don’t think that, as a salaried academic, I should be supplementing my income by making others pay to read the thoughts that I am paid to write. I appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone and that many of my colleagues around the world in humanities departments exist in states of precarious labour, thus depending on royalties. But that’s not my state and I do not want more money than my professorial labour. I want the world to be able to read what I have written, whether they can afford to pay for it, or not.